For A Small Retainer, You Can Have Lab Rats Chew On Your Marcom Problems

Richmond Times-Dispatch is reporting on a new business model for Work Labs, the agency led by Cabell Harris.
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The article describes Work Labs’ compensation model and their outsourced talent pool.

Harris will ask clients to pay his agency a small retainer each quarter.
For that retainer, Work Labs will present new marketing ideas to clients each quarter. The client pays only for the ideas it decides to implement, he said.
“The impetus is on us to keep bringing them ideas that they can move forward with,” Harris said.

To create these ideas worth buying, Work Labs, with a staff of five in Richmond, will reach out to their network of Lab Rats, consisting of 25 “founding members” who are top-notch ad industry experts.
“I want to unite the creative thinkers and doers of the world,” says Harris, who also teaches at VCU Brandcenter.
The idea isn’t without controversy. Because Lab Rats will only be paid if their ideas go forward, there’s a whiff of crowdsourcing here that upsets some people. For instance, a comment made on the Times-Dispatch Web site says,” Let’s see if I understand this correctly. You charge a client a monthly fee, plus a fee for the work, but the creative people only get paid if their concepts get approved. What a great opportunity for the creatives! Maybe a good alternative would be playing the Lotto, where the odds are better and the reward is much greater.”
Bottom line, do you believe in paying creatives for their bad ideas, as an investment in the good ones to come? That’s the reality of working as staff at an agency of old. You have a salary and you can stink the place up for weeks, and still receive your fat paycheck.
Harris is responding to the fact that creative services companies need to get lean and mean to survive. But what’s really needed is a balance between the extremes. I love the extended network as work force model, but I prefer to take the old world route of assigning projects to the best people for those particular jobs.

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About David Burn

I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. Today—after working for seven agencies in five states—I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.